November 2015

Stargazing at the White House on Astronomy Night

President Barack Obama with high school student Agatha Sofia Alvarez-BareiroPresident Barack Obama with high school student Agatha Sofia Alvarez-Bareiro

President Barack Obama with high school student Agatha Sofia Alvarez-Bareiro
President Obama and Agatha Sofia Alvarez-Bareiro, a high school senior from Brooklyn, New York, get ready to look at the moon through a telescope.

On October 19, 2015, President Barack Obama hosted the second-ever White House Astronomy Night in Washington, D.C. In this event, students and teachers were invited to the South Lawn of the White House to gaze at the nighttime sky. Attendees viewed the moon and stars through four telescopes set up on the White House lawn. They also did hands-on activities at space-themed exhibits and heard scientists and astronauts share their stories. The night was a special event to promote education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

In addition to the event at the White House, more than 80 national parks, observatories, schools, museums, and astronomy clubs also held events for Astronomy Night. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, hosted the “Starry Night White House Watch Party” that featured free planetarium shows and telescopes for use by the public. On hand to provide instruction were Yale astronomers—scientists who study stars and other objects in space. Events were also held in Baltimore, Maryland; Twin Falls, Idaho; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Grand Canyon National Park. For anyone who wanted to host his or her own event, there was an Astronomy Night toolkit available online. The toolkit included trading cards and plans that showed how to build a Mars Habitat prototype.

Astronauts and scientists who attended the White House Astronomy Night included former astronaut U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, astronaut Mae Jameson, who was the first African American woman in space, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, hosts of the popular television show Mythbusters. Some of the 300 students who took part in the event were invited because of special projects they had participated in. For example, students on the Engineering Rocket Team of Alabama’s Russellville City Schools attended.

Parts of the White House Astronomy Night were streamed live on the Internet, including a speech by President Obama. In it, he expressed his confidence in America’s future generations: “America can do anything. We just got to keep on encouraging every new generation to explore, and invent, and create, and discover. We got to keep encouraging some young kid in Brooklyn, or a budding rocket scientist in Alabama, or that young girl who’s dreaming to become an astronaut. Because as long as young people, like so many of you who are here tonight, keep seeking answers to the great questions, America can do anything.”

Image credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Question 1
Where did the main Astronomy Night event take place?

Question 2
What does Astronomy Night help promote?

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